Symposium on the Evolution of Religion, AoM 2019

1 11 2018




Temple Roof, Taipei, 1990 Source: By Miuki – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Dear Fellow Management Researchers,

The last decade has witnessed the emergence an important new theoretical framework that can help us to understand the role of religious beliefs in creating competitive advantage. The theory in question has recently been developed by an interdisciplinary group of scholars that is centred on the University of British Columbia but which includes researchers in many countries. The theory was produced and refined by the joint efforts of psychologists, anthropologists, biologists, and others. The researchers associated with this theory include Joseph Henrich, Jon Haidt, and Ara Norenzayan (Henrich, 2004; Henrich et al., 2005; Henrich & McElreath, 2007; Liénard & Boyer, 2006; Whitehouse, 2007; Norenzayan & Shariff 2008; Henrich, 2009; Atran & Henrich, 2010; Henrich et al. 2010;  Purzycki, 2016; Mitkidis et al., 2017; Willard et al., 2016; Power, 2017; Willard, 2018; Purzycki et al., 2016; Purzycki et al., 2018a; Purzycki et al., 2018b). After more than a decade of testing via empirical research, we can conclude that this paradigm has enough validity to be worth using (Purzycki, 2018a).

The theory suggests to us that the rise of complex social systems in which millions of people cooperate is a function of the advent of religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism that promote pro social behaviour (I.e., being honest with and non-violent towards non-kin). The theory teaches that the groups whose religions most strongly promote prosocial behaviour and the playing of positive-sum games will acquire a net competitive advantage. The paradigm is utilised by researchers with a wide variety of personal religious beliefs. Some are believers, some are non-religious, but all seen value in this paradigm for those of use engaged in the social scientific, non-judgemental study of religion.

This website can act as a gateway into the theory I mentioned. It describes cutting edge research on the Cultural Evolution of Religion and Morality.

In my view, the theory will be of particular interest to management researchers who do research in the following areas: moral foundations theory, family business studies, business ethics, and business history.

To date, this theory has been applied to studying macro level phenomena such as the rise of capitalism, micro level phenomenon such as differences in how people play prisoner dilemma type games, and historical phenomena (e.g., the rise and fall of powerful tribes in Papua New Guinea), but it has not yet really been brought into debates about the foundations of competitive advantage in firms. A few scattered management academics are using the important new theory I had described, but management researchers have, in general, arguably paid insufficient attention to the potential utility of this powerful theory.

We are, therefore, trying to organize an AoM Presenter Symposium on “Applying the Evolution of Religion and Morality Perspective to Management Research.” As you will recall, Presenter Symposia involve a series of authored papers that the organizers structure around a theme of interest to them.  This Presenter Symposium will take place at the next AoM August 9-13, 2019 in Boston.

In organizing this symposium, we would welcome expressions of interest from management researchers who are interested in applying this theory to understand firms shaped by non-Abrahamic religious traditions as well as by scholars who are researching how religion influences Christian, Jewish, and Muslim firms. [I’m putting the Symposium together with some management academics here in the UK and our current research project is on a Quaker firm, but we definitely want to present alongside papers that are about other religions]. We are particularly interested in hearing from management researchers who are seeking to synthesize/reconcile the theory developed by Henrich et al. with the Economics of Religion approach exemplified by Iannaccone (1998) and which continues to be used by scholars who are part of Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC).

If are interested in being part of a Symposium on this subject, please get in touch with me.

We hope to get the Symposium organized by the middle of December, since the AoM deadline is early January.

Andrew Smith

Senior Lecturer in International Business, University of Liverpool


Purzycki, B. G. (2016). The Evolution of Gods’ Minds in the Tyva Republic. Current Anthropology, 57(S13), S88–S104. doi:10.1086/685729

Purzycki, B. G., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q. D., Cohen, E., McNamara, R. A., Willard, A. K., et al. (2016). Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality. Nature, 530(7590), 327–330. doi:10.1038/nature16980

Purzycki, B. G., Henrich, J., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q. D., Baimel, A., Cohen, E., et al. (2018). The evolution of religion and morality: a synthesis of ethnographic and experimental evidence from eight societies. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 8(2), 101–132. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2016.1267027

Purzycki, B. G., Pisor, A. C., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Cohen, E., Henrich, J., et al. (2018). The cognitive and cultural foundations of moral behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(5), 490–501. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.04.004




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